Sunday, March 1, 2015

Quick Update and an Upcoming Feature

The week has been full of snuffling and headaches, so just a quick update and an announcement.

First, I have poem out in the current Prize Poems issue of Pegasus (the Kentucky State Poetry Society's journal).

[Here is where I would post a photo, but I forgot to take a photo before lending my copy out.]

Back when I was in high school, I joined a poets' group that met at the McCracken County Library. And the poets I met there mentored me in many ways; one of these ways including giving me their old copies of Pegasus. Seeing my name in this publication feels like watching a circle come to completion.

Second, if I had a dollar for every time someone (usually with a look that suggested I needed to drag in a fainting couch) said, “You haven’t seen [movie title]?! But that’s a classic!” I could afford to see every new release from now till the next Haley’s Comet appearance. . .and still have money left over for popcorn.

In a (possibly misguided?) attempt to fill in some gaps in my cultural knowledge I’m starting a new, irregular blog feature called, “Bethany Watches Movies Everyone Else Has Already Seen.” Or B.W.M.E.E.H.A.S. for not-much-shorter. (Currently working on The Breakfast Club.)

The rules are simple:
1.       It has to be a movie I either have never seen before or that I’ve only seen pieces of.
2.       It doesn’t have to be old, but it has to a “classic” or a hallmark of some kind. And I mean that in the very, very loosest sense of those terms—something that people talk about and remember, something that seems to have changed film or taken a foothold in culture. For example, Inception would count, for me, even though it’s hardly an old movie, but anything currently in theaters or recently released to DVD wouldn’t.
3.       I’m not going to watch movies I know I’ll hate. For example, I don’t like horror, so I don’t really care about how “classic” the Friday the 13th movies are. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.
4.       I’m going to try to keep this short. No more than 35 sentences per post. No more than 10 screen caps or photos.
These will not be real reviews. I don’t know enough about film to pretend to be a worthwhile critic. This is just a record of my reactions. Also, I’m curious to find out if my perceptions of older movies are different from other people’s when the nostalgia factor is removed. (I’m always shocked, and slightly insulted, to find that people who haven’t grown up watching the original Star Wars movies don’t automatically love them when watching them as adults. But I think Star Wars influenced so many other films that viewing it out of film history's chronology can make it appear derivative.)

I hope I will learn some interesting things from this experiment, and I intend to have some fun with it.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Reading Goals for 2015

Last week, I blogged about what I read in 2014. This seems like a good point to write about what I want to read in 2015.

I definitely need to read more plays, just one would surpass the number I read last year.

I'd like to read at least seven books that are either collections of poetry or books about poetry.

I'd like to read more adult fiction this year, but I'm content with keeping that number vague. (Maybe I'll finally read Moby Dick. I feel like that would count as "more," even if the number of novels on my list didn't increase.)

I'd like to read at least one book by a Nobel-prize-winning writer whose work I'm not well-acquainted with. I tried this in 2013, and I took an alluring trip with Alice Munro's Runway. This was in spite of my general avoidance of short story collections and the accuracy of The Toast's "How to Tell if You are in an Alice Munro Story." ("Nothing has ever happened to you except one thing, decades ago.")

I'd like to read two Pulitzer-winning books, at least one of them fiction.

I'd like to start reading more internationally (excluding countries I already read from semi-regularly, e.g., Britain, Russia, France, Germany, Ireland, and Canada). This challenge is very much inspired by this woman's goal to read a novel for every country in the world. But I don't have the time or stamina to read 196 novels (give or take) in a year. Instead, I'd like to pick two countries (or possibly two cultures within a country/region) and read some work from them over the course of a year.

This year, I'd like to read literature from South Africa and Lesotho, focusing particularly (though not exclusively) on work relating to the Zulu people. If you have any suggestions, definitely let me know!

That all sounds a bit serious.

Here are my other, completely arbitrary, reading goals (click here for a larger view):

When it's from a site called "PopSugar," you know the list is going to be weighty with gravitas.
Some of these are so simple that I've zipped through at least a dozen goals already. But other challenges seem to have set me up for failure before I've begun. For example, the only book I've found so far by an author who shares my B.F.B. initials is a 19th century memoir of an American privateer (and no one is 100% sure who wrote it, so it's a stretch). And I didn't cry when I read The Fault in Our Stars, so obviously the answer to "a book that made you cry" is going to be "the book I accidentally smothered in raw onions."

I don't know that I'll be able to fulfill all these goals, but I'm definitely excited to try. What are your reading goals for the year?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

50 Books List for 2014

Every year I try to read at least fifty books. What gets included on this list is bit arbitraryfor example, short picture books don't count, short poetry volumes usually do; individual comic book issues don't count, but trade collections of multiple issues do. I missed posting my list for 2013, but here's the list for 2014.

Underline of any color= graphic novel/comic book  

  1. Robin: Year One—written by Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty, illustrated by Javier Pulido and Robert Campanella
  2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince—J.K. Rowling
  3.  Portraits of a Marriage—Sándor Márai, trans. by George Szirtes
  4. Tell the Wolves I’m Home—Carol Rifka Brunt
  5. Gunnerkrigg Court, Vol. 1: Orientation—Thomas Siddell
  6. The Plain Janes—written by Cecil Castellucci, art by Jim Rugg
  7. Sweeney Astray—translated by Seamus Heaney
  8. Saints—Gene Luen Yang
  9. Gunnerkrigg Court, Vol. 2: Research—Thomas Siddell
  10. Batman & Robin, Vol. 1: Born to Kill—written by Peter J. Tomasi, illustrated by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray
  11. Nightwing: Year One—written by Chuck Dixon, illustrated by Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens
  12. Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth—Warsan Shire
  13. A Town Like Alice—Nevil Shute
  14. In the Woods—Tana French
  15. Gunnerkrigg Court, Vol. 3: Reason—Thomas Siddell
  16. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—J.K. Rowling
  17. Nightwing: The Lost Year—written by Marv Wolfman and Marc Andreyko; art by Joe Bennett, Jack Jadson, Jamal Igle, Jon Bosco, Keith Champagne, Alex Silva, etc.
  18. Zot! Book 1—Scott McCloud
  19. Surprised by the Voice of God—Jack Deere
  20. The Fire in All Things: Poems—Stephen Yenser
  21. The Book Thief—Markus Zusak
  22. Batman and Robin, Vol. 2: Pearl—written by Peter J. Tomasi; art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, Tomas Giorello, etc.
  23. Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight—Travis Langley
  24. Catching Fire—Suzanne Collins
  25. Sex at Noon Taxes—Sally Van Doren
  26. Nightwing, Vol. 1: A Knight in Blüdhaven—written by Chuck Dixon; art by Scott McDaniel and Karl Story
  27. Batman: The Heart of Hush—written by Paul Dini, illustrated by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs
  28. Mockingjay—Suzanne Collins
  29. Streets of Gotham, Vol. 1: Hush Money—written by Paul Dini, illustrated by Dustin Nguyen
  30. Streets of Gotham, Vol. 2: Leviathan—written by Paul Dini; Mike Benson; and Christopher Yost, art by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs
  31. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination—Elizabeth McCracken
  32. Of Gravity and Angels—Jane Hirshfield
  33. Comfort Me with Apples—Ruth Reichl
  34. Batman: Streets of Gotham, Vol. 3: House of Hush—written by Paul Dini, illustrated by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs
  35. Nightwing, Vol. 1: Traps and Trapezes—written by Kyle Higgins; illustrated by Eddie Barrows, Eduardo Pansica, Geraldo Borges, JP Mayer, Paulo Siqueira, Eber Ferreira, Ruy José, etc.
  36. A Tale for the Time Being—Ruth Ozeki
  37.  Everything is Illuminated—Jonathan Safran Foer
  38. Batman Incorporated, Vol. 1: Demon Star—written by Grant Morrison; art by Chris Burnham (p), Frazer Irving (p), Bit artists (p), Nathan Fairbairn (c), Frazar Irving (c), etc.
  39. JLA/W.I.L.D.Cats—written by Grant Morrison, (art by ?)
  40. Batman Incorporated—written by Grant Morrison, art by Yanick Paquette and Chris Burnham
  41. Doc—Mary Doria Russell
  42. Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey—Nick Bertozzi
  43. Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love—written by Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack Jr., art by Randy Duburke
  44. The Search—written by Eric Heuvel with Ruud van der Rol and Lies Schippers, art by Eric Heuvel, trans. by Lorraine T. Miller
  45. Brown Girl Dreaming—Jacqueline Woodson
  46. The Light Between Oceans—M.L. Stedman
  47. Bone: Out from Boneville—Jeff Smith
  48. The Search for Delicious—Natalie Babbit
  49. Dogs of War—written by Sheila Keenan, art by Nathan Fox
  50. March: Book One—story by John Robert Lewis and Andrew Aydin, art by Nate Powell
  51. Lewis & Clark—Nick Bertozzi 
Last year I read thirty-six works of fiction, six volumes of poetry, five works of nonfiction, and three memoirs. Of those, twenty-three of the fictional works were graphic novels or comic book collections, as were three of the nonfiction texts and one of the memoirs. This means that over half (twenty-seven books) of my fifty books were comic books.

I shouldn't be surprised, especially given my recent project

I could tell I wasn't reading many (text-based) novels (something I'd like change this year), but I was bewildered to see so few nonfiction books on the list. I'd felt like I'd read more nonfiction last year. Then I realized. . .I read a lot of nonfiction last year, but mainly things that I can't count on this list: articles and blog posts, books I haven't finished yet, books I read huge sections of (for research), but not in their entirety (or in order). For example, Shelley Taylor's The Tending Instinct was one of the most interesting books I read last year, but I only completed about 80% of it.


My favorite novel of 2014 was, no contest, Mary Doria Russell's Docsharp and tender, full of pithy descriptions and heartbreaking characters.

My favorite nonfiction book was Surprised by the Voice of God by Jack Deere, in part because it was exactly the book I needed to read at the time. I had read parts (if not all) of it before, but what struck me this time through was the graceful humility with which it was written.

My favorite poetry read was a tie between Of Gravity and Angels (I always end up loving Jane Hirshfield's work) and The Fire in All Things, which made me promise myself I'd read it again in a few years and see if I understood different elements.

My favorite memoir was March: Book One, which surprised me because I hadn't expected so much artistry from a book so closely connected to a politician. But the story is well-told and captures John Lewis' personal journey and hallmarks of the Civil Rights movement in a way feels simultaneously broad and intimate. It left me eager for the next installment.

My favorite "capes" comic collection was Batman & Robin, Vol. 1: Born to Kill. This was the first Batman and Robin of the New52 reboot; a change I wasn't looking forward to. (I had been upset when the New52 broke up the duo of Dick Grayson's Batman and Damian Wayne's Robin for the "return" of Bruce Wayne.) But now I want all my superhero comics to be as thoughtful as this volume. The tension between father and son is so believable that it keeps the story grounded in psychological realism, even as the crime-fighting enters the typically bizarre world of Batman villains. Tomasi was wise enough to focus on the characters first and the heroics second. And Gleason's artwork is full of atmospheric shadows and heart-rending visual parallels.

My favorite non-capes comic collection was Gunnerkrigg Court, Vol. 2: Research because that was the volume where I realized I was absolutely addicted to the strange scientifically-magical/magically-robotic boarding school Thomas Siddell had created. Siddell had also grown into his art style by this volume. I have not caught up to the online comic yet, so I can't recommend it in its entirety (and if the inclusion of same-sex relationships ruins stories for you, this will not be your favorite read). I think of Gunnerkrigg Court as "Harry Potter with female protagonists and adorable robots." If that sounds awesome to you, check it out.

In an upcoming post, I'll write a bit about my reading goals for this year. But I want to know: What were your favorite books for 2014? And do you have any reading goals for 2015? 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Promising Re-start?

I promised myself that I would start blogging again in February and update at least once a week for the rest of the year. And here it is the last day of the first week in February. . . .

If I don't post something before midnight, my New Year's resolutions will all turn into pumpkins, so here's a quick review of my last year's writing credits, sort of the clip-show episode of blogposts (except I've been so lazy about blogging in the last year that all this information is actually new).

I obviously haven't been writing here, but looking back, I did write and submit a fair bit in 2014.

I've had some poetry published.

 Poetry Quarterly (the most prosaic name for a poetry publication the editor could think of), Summer 2014.

The most recent Poet's Market, a publication I actually use a fair bit, so I was excited to have an example poem published here.

I wrote an essay titled "Mother Alfred: The Influence of Dick Grayson's 'Other Parent'" for an upcoming publication on Dick Grayson (McFarland, July 2015), which I'm absolutely tickled about.

(Possibly the dorkiest thing I've ever done.)

(And that's including this. Me as Gandalf the White for the opening of The Return of the King. Not even embarrassed.)

There are a couple other small publishing credits coming up, which I will mention here when they come out (or when I'm running out of actual blogging material). 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Egg and I Road and a Giant Metal Fish, or Spring Comes to the Olympic Peninsula

So it's April and I haven't even posted my Fifty Books List from 2012 yet.... It seems like I can only manage one of two things: I can have a life or I can have a blog about my life.

But one of the books I read last year was The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald, which was alternatively interesting, funny, depressing, and startlingly racist.

I knew Betty MacDonald for her Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series, which I loved as a child. But she was probably even better known for her memoir about struggling to run a chicken farm on the Olympic Peninsula in the late 1920s. The Egg and I became wildly popular, spawned several copycat titles, and many films (most of them about Ma and Pa Kettle, sort of precursors to the Beverly Hillbillies).

I have trouble deciding how much I actually like the book, but the setting of the book is close to where I live now. There's an egocentric delight in reading good descriptions of local scenery.

After church on Easter, we took a drive.

And here's a view from Egg and I Road. (We weren't sure where exactly the farm had been located, but here's a farm that makes me think of Betty MacDonald's house huddled at the feet of the mountains.)

Then we turned onto Egg and I Ridge Road.

And then we were done being vaguely literary and we went here:

Do you know what's inside the giant metal fish? If you guessed "most of creation," you'd be correct.

That's what I call making efficient use of your giant salmon.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Dickens Google Doodle

I spent far too much time yesterday trying to figure out what each scene in the Google doodle represented. Other bloggers’ interpretations left me spluttering (“That’s not Miss Havisham!”). So these are my guesses:

The first G is probably A Tale of Two Cities with Sydney Carton in Paris (and Lucie in the lower right hand corner?). The first O is the title character from Little Dorrit. The second O is A Christmas Carol with Scrooge appearing below the O searching the gloom of his rooms and Tiny Tim resting on top of the O with his crutch. I submit that the scene above the two Os is also from A Christmas Carol, probably including Scrooge (though it could be Jacob Marley pulled out of chronology) chatting with the Ghost of Christmas Present (note the leaves in his hair and the red/green scheme). The second G gives me pause… Pip and Estella from Great Expectations? Or David and Agnes (or Dora) from David Copperfield? The L is sturdier ground: the Artful Dodger and Oliver from Oliver Twist. I’m not certain, but I suspect the E shows the grandfather and Nell from The Old Curiosity Shop.

What do you think?                           

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

MLA Conference in Seattle and Some News

Okay, first things second. I will have two poems in an upcoming edition of The Sow's Ear Poetry Review (when I find out which issue, I'll let you know). I'm so excited, you'd think I was up for a Nobel.

Earlier this month, the Modern Language Association held its annual conference in Seattle. Several sessions were open to the public. So I went up on Thursday night and spent Friday at the conference. (Many thanks to the Seattle Brengans for room, board, and good times.)

Here are some photos from the Kingston ferry dock.

After being happily landlocked for so many years, I'm amazed that I live near all this water.

I didn't get much sleep the night before the conference, and I discovered that when I'm tired I can't understand directions. I lived at the help desk. Here's a photo of part of the lobby area with one of the conference workers helping an attendee who isn't me, for once.

Being in such an academic environment was both invigorating and bemusing. Before one session, I heard a woman behind me mutter something about "the politics of periodism." I couldn't decide if I was more tickled by the fact that there are people who can say things like "the politics of periodism" and Foucauldian without blinkingor by the fact that I knew what she was talking about.

Some of the sessions were academics presenting papers on minutiae that I suspect you can only appreciate if you're already studying those particular subspecies of English literature. I felt relief that I wasn't a doctoral student (and gratitude that other people are willing to be doctoral students and let me pick their brains).

I stumbled into my favorite session of the day by accident. (I had intended to go to a session on Harold Pinter, only to realize that session was on Saturday. Did I mention that I can't read directions when I'm tired?) Author Richard Van Camp's session was so good, I worked up enough courage to ask to have my photo taken with him.

Speaking of awesome writers... here's the Chinese poet Xi Chuan answering an audience question.

The man next to him is his official (written) translator, Lucas Klein. A poem would be read in Chinese, and over half the audience would laugh or nod. Then those of us who spoke only English would eagerly wait for the translation so we could find out what everyone else was reacting to.

I left the conference feeling revitalized and with an even bigger to-read list. (Special thanks to Scott who talked to me during lunch and gave me some great suggestions.)